I opened the door to leave.
Then, I flinched.
Boss was standing right in front of the door. She threw an upward glance at me.
“…Did you also come here to speak to the Ironblood Duchess, Boss?”
I asked, but Boss only glared at me in silence. Her height, which was tall for a woman, was quite daunting today.
‘Why is she so upset? Did Jain tell her that I was going to withdraw from the martial tournament?’
Boss stood motionlessly for a while before stretching her arm past me. I was startled, but it was no big deal. Boss grabbed the doorknob that I had been standing against. KOONG— She closed the half-opened door completely.
“…Boss? Aren’t you going to go in?”
She interrupted me midway. Boss’s lips quivered slightly and she mumbled a question as if she was talking to herself.
“Just now. What you did inside.”
I tilted my head to one side.
“You did something inside.”
Boss repeated. I quickly realized what she meant. She probably witnessed the strange scene that Tomer and I had created just a moment ago.
“Ah, that was nothing. Wait, Boss, were you peeking on us?”
Boss’s shoulders trembled slightly and then she frowned.
“Peeking? That is no way to speak to your boss.”
I simply smiled.
“Then, why did you come here?”
“What you did just now—“
“She’s my centurion.”
Tomer interrupted Boss. The door opened again and Tomer came out. Tomer smiled softly at Boss.
But Boss greeted Tomer in an unusually brusque manner.
“But I’ll have to listen to your report later. I have something else to do.”
She could’ve asked what was going on but didn’t and simply walked past us. Boss, slightly disgruntled, watched Tomer disappear.
“Hmm…. Boss, how's your sparring with Tomer going?”
I tried asking. Some time had passed since we arrived on the 8th floor, but their relationship was still the same. Things would be different if she had won at least once.
“…We’re now evenly matched, on-par, and equal.”
She said several phrases that meant the same thing with determination and energy.
“It won’t be long. I’ll win.”
Seeing Boss like that aroused my curiosity.
“Have you been reading a wuxia novel?”
“…Mm? What are you talking about suddenly? I did find an interesting wuxia novel. Should I tell you what it’s called?”
Boss grinned, just like anyone who was recommending their favorite novel would, and opened a system window.
“No, that’s okay.”
I declined with a smile but my curiosity was aroused once again.
‘What were her stats like now?’
I took out the Directory.
[Magic Power ??]
Her stats were on the rise. Question marks indicated that her stats had surpassed what the Directory could accurately estimate.
But seeing this great increase only deepened my curiosity. What kind of environment was Tomer in, and what sort of skills did she learn to be able to win against Boss even in this state?
I closed the Directory.
Then, I opened it again right away. This time, I infused 0.5 streaks of Stigma’s magic power into it. Perhaps the stat limit would increase.
Contrary to my expectations, the question marks on the Directory didn’t change. Only, different kinds of sentences and details appeared as if they had been burned into the page.
[Current emotion - slightly annoyed, curious]
[Slightly irritated by the hug and the word ‘Regressor’. Also, hungry.]
[Wants to read the next chapter of the webnovel, ‘New Martial World’.]
“Oh, by the way, Hajin.”
While I was reading the Directory, Boss suddenly put on a cold expression.
“Kaita was killed.”
We were both silent for a moment.
'Kaita was killed,' Boss repeated solemnly.
I wasn’t all that surprised. I knew exactly who had—who would have—defeated him.
It was then that a shriek came from downstairs. It was Tomer’s. Our conversation was cut off there, and we hurried downstairs simultaneously.
We quickly arrived at where the scream came from, and Boss immediately checked whether Tomer was safe. It seemed Boss took a liking to Tomer.
But Tomer was simply on the floor without a hint of injury or any trace of an intruder.
“Hey, y-you… This person.”
Tomer shuddered as she pointed at the bed. That was where I placed the assassin who attacked me.
“What’s wrong… Huh?”
I finally took a closer look at the person in the bed.
Her plain appearance was indeed a disguise and had completely wore off by now. The bare face that was revealed belonged to a person I knew well, a person that I had seen before with my own eyes.
‘Araha Von Atalos Diana.’
I mumbled with a sigh.
“…Why is Princess Araha here?”
“Where, where did you meet her?”
Tomer asked in a flurry.
“The eastern mountain….”
I opened the Directory and examined Araha’s status.
[Current state - asleep]
[I have to catch the thief who stole the Crane Feather Fan… So sleepy.]
She was clearly unconscious. Sleeping, at the least.
It looked like she was here to find the Crane Feather Fan… but how? Was there a problem with it? I glanced at the Crane Feather Fan in my pocket and scratched the back of my neck.
I had no clue why the princess would foolishly come here alone, but she wasn’t just a little girl who could be brushed off. She was ambitious and smart, at least for a 17-year old…. Maybe it was part of her plan to be captured like this.
“Are people going to suspect that we abducted her? But her face was different when I put her here.”
I looked at Tomer and explained.
“…Don’t worry. I have an excuse in my mind. She disguised herself, which means that she ran away from home. The fifth princess’ eccentricity is nothing new.”
Tomer was back on her feet before I realized. She wiped the sweat off her forehead.
“But first… tell me what happened.”
I nodded and told her exactly what happened.
[3F Prestige, Lv.8 Essence of the Strait’s Hideout]
At Essence of the Strait’s hideout, which could accommodate over 100 people now, Kim Youngjin, the Chief Officer of the Tower Subjugation Team, received a report.
[…Therefore, I would like to inform Chief Officer Kim Youngjin that the mission was successful.]
The report was made over an infinitely multiplying letter.
He was informed that Black Lotus had been defeated on the 8th floor, that Aileen’s team had entered the 9th floor, and that the doorway to the 9th floor was now shut and wouldn’t open for a while.
Yoo Yeonha, who had been listening silently, asked Kim Youngjin.
Technically, in the Tower, Kim Youngjin was the one in charge. Yoo Yeonha didn’t want to take that away from him. Although she was superior to him in rank outside the Tower, Yoo Yougjin had better insight into what was happening in the Tower.
Kim Yougjin let out a perplexed sigh first.
Yoo Yeonha nodded at the solemn declaration. Her thoughts jumbled at the same time, resulting in a headache. But she didn’t want to let her mixed feelings show on her face.
Chae Nayun was in the same room, clenching her teeth and deep in thought.
Kim Hajin defeated the man who was considered to be the strongest in the Tower. That was a cruel yet definite provocation to Chae Nayun.
Yoo Yeonha continued to think quietly.
Things were starting to get serious.
Kim Hajin killed Black Lotus, but he already knew that Black Lotus was a member of the Chameleon Troupe.
So, this was clearly a declaration of war.
Kim Hajin would continue to hunt down the members of the Chameleon Troupe, perhaps more thoroughly and brutally than she could imagine….
“…Well then, I’ll leave now.”
Chae Nayun suddenly stood up. She rushed out of the hideout.
“Ah, Nayun. Again….”
Yi Jiyoon mumbled words of concern as she watched Chae Nayun leave. Yoo Yeonha didn't miss her knowing attitude.
“Oh, um. She’s been smoking again lately… Boss.”
Yi Jiyoon carefully added the honorific at the end.
“Smoking? They sell cigarettes here?”
“Yes. People with strange skills began making and selling them again.”
“I didn’t see any on the 3rd floor.”
“They're only on the 8th floor. They don’t sell any luxury items on the 3rd floor since they can sell for a higher price on the 8th.”
Yoo Yeonha scratched her head and got on her feet with a sigh. Then, she chased after Chae Nayun who had just left the room.
As Yi Jiyoon said, Chae Nayun was smoking on the 3rd floor balcony.
Yoo Yeonha called her name softly. Chae Nayun turned her back to face Yoo Yeonha.
"What are you doing here?"
Chae Nayun shook the cigarette placed in between her fingers and threw it in the portable ashtray.
"It's nothing. I only smoke three a day. I earned a good Trait related to it."
Chae Nayun smiled, but she didn't look happy at all.
Yoo Yeonha leaned herself against the wall and stared at Chae Nayun. The smile on her lips glowed under the pale moonlight.
"I'm not supposed to tell others, but I'll make you an exception. Let's put it this way, I can convert toxins into magic power."
"Yup. I got this Trait when I was cursed a while ago. Cigarettes are a pretty decent source of magic power. Three cigarettes a day can easily restore my magic power."
"I see~ That's a good Trait."
Yoo Yeonha looked at Chae Nayun gently. As they shared eye contact, she was filled with various emotions.
"W-What are you looking at?"
To be honest, Yoo Yeonha was still hoping. Her wish may never come true, but she didn't think that it was impossible.
Suddenly, Yoo Yeonha was thinking about the question her father had asked her.
'Is it weak to lean on to hope or is it weak to not believe in hope?'
She didn't answer at the time, because she didn't think it was possible to judge a person's weakness based solely on their belief in hope.
"Oh, I heard that you were promoted to the chief officer position."
"…Yeah, I was."
"Congrats. You're the youngest chief officer in history. That's pretty cool."
That was why Yoo Yeonha was still believing.
She was still hoping that one day Kim Hajin and Chae Nayun would smile at each other.
That one day, they would put an end to all the misunderstandings, resentment, and hatred, and that all of their wounds would heal.
That one day they would face each other and smile truthfully.
Even if it was a dream that could never come true….
Under Prestige’s clear and beautiful moonlight, Yoo Yeonha thought about her wish once more.
[7F, Game Center]
Early in the morning the next day.
Tomer had asked me to hide while she talked to the princess, so I went down to the 7th floor.
I took out the Directory.
Jin Sahyuk - Current location: 7F
Aileen - Current location: 9F
Chae Nayun - Current location: 8-2F
Kim Suho - Current location: 8-3F…
Jin Sahyuk was on the 7th floor right now, but there was nothing I could do. Killing was strictly forbidden on the 7th floor, and the moment I took out a weapon, I would receive a warning from AlphaGo. If I acted violently even after that, I would turn into ashes and disappear before I could even lift a finger.
…How does ace-high win in a 4 way pot? Haha, sorry, boys.
…Aces full. I assume I’m good?
I slowly walked across the 7th floor past all the gambling, games, regrets, lamentations, sadness, and happiness, then arrived at the [Upgrade Center]. Even though the [Upgrade Center] was the most important facility on the 7th floor, it was almost empty, probably because it was way too expensive or because everyone was obsessed with gambling. There was only one customer.
I carefully stepped towards her direction.
"…So you're saying that each stat boost is 15,000 TP?"
—That is correct.
The voice speaking to AlphaGo sounded familiar.
"That's way more than what I expected… Here, what’s this ‘individual boost’?"
—I strengthen your intrinsic Trait which is connected to your neurotech chip.
"Mine is way too expensive. Where do I even find 150,000 TP?"
—It is because your Trait is perfect and splendid.
"…Really? Hmm…. Fine. You're just a robot, but I like you."
I stood beside the grinning woman and said fleetingly.
"You better not be thinking of doing anything stupid to make money."
Jin Sahyuk widened her eyes and turned her head around to face me.
The moment our eyes met, she jumped a little to the side. Judging from her quick response, I could tell that she was completely healed.
Jin Sahyuk moved her lips as if she was about to say something.
"We're probably going to run into each other more often."
But I was faster.
"Wherever you are,"
If it's a place where you can die,
"…I'll go and find you. So behave properly."
Jin Sahyuk gave me a sharp glance. She mumbled inaudible words and then pointed her fingers at me and ran away.
I took over the spot where the customer had left.
"Yeah, good to see you. It's been a while."
—How may I help you today?
"I'm here for the prizes."
The 7th floor game prizes. I came in first in all but 3 games, and the system sent me a message asking to retrieve the prizes.
—Understood. I shall convert your score to prize score and show you the list of prizes. Your prize score is 150PT.
The robot pulled up the list of prizes.
[Prosthetic Limb (Effective Good) — 25PT]
[VVIP Room Pass — 25PT]
[Machine Enhancement Service — 100PT]
The only thing that caught my eye was the Machine Enhancement Service.
—You have selected the Machine Enhancement Service for 100PT. Please submit what you would like to enhance.
"How about my neurotech chip?"
—It is the latest technology, thus further enhancement is not possible.
"Really? Well, then."
Nothing I can do about it.
I handed the Desert Eagle over.
AlphaGo grabbed my gun and started examining it in detail. Its curiosity was rare for a robot.
—What a mysterious machine.
"Can you do it?"
—Yes. But the process will take about half a day.
Half a day wasn’t so bad.
The situation in Crevon was alright for now. Although the existing monsters were still on a rampage, the 9th floor’s calamities had yet to descend, probably because Aileen's team on the 9th floor was somehow holding on.
I wasn't sure how helpful this gun would be in the advent of the calamities, but I had already made hundreds of bullets for it. It was the result of me pushing the blacksmiths of Prestige to their limit.
—I have received the Desert Eagle.
In the original, 1/3 of Crevon was destroyed by the calamities.
I believed that I could change this fate drastically.
"You're the one doing the enhancement, right? And you become my possession temporarily?"
—Yes, that is correct.
"Then, show me your hand."
But I plan on doing my best.
I grabbed AlphaGo's wrist and muttered 'scan'.
[9F, inside the Door of Calamity]
The sun that lit up the world had fallen to the west.
Aileen’s party was in the middle of the 9th floor where not a single blade of grass grew.
"I give up, I give up."
Aileen wanted to give up.
Jin Seyeon, Yi Yongha, and Shin Jonghak were on the 9th floor with her.
Challenging the 9th floor with a party of four indeed fit the word ‘calamity’. Every monster they encountered was equivalent in strength to the boss monster of a dungeon. Furthermore, the entire system, including the Community, had gone down.
In this living hell, without any supply or method to recover energy and health, Aileen and the others had endured for no less than 18 hours.
"Give up… I really wanna give up…."
"Lady Aileen, if we back down here, the calamities will invade the 8th floor."
Jin Seyeon gently comforted Aileen, who was drooping like a wet sponge.
The reward they received for being the first ones to reach the 9th floor was [the right to eliminate the 9th floor’s calamities first].
Further elaborating, they earned the right to 'monopolize the 9th floor for as long as they wanted’. However, they couldn’t leave the 9th floor.
If they monopolized the 9th floor, then no one else would be able to come in, and that's what their ‘right’ was referring to. However, this right could be given up at any time, after which the 9th floor’s calamities would escape through the wide open door.
"I know, but…."
Aileen was feeling somewhat responsible for it. After all, she was the one who opened the door.
"I can't die here."
"That's true…. Well, let’s rest for now. We don't know when the enemy will strike again."
They lay on the ground silently. They had just finished fighting and the atmosphere was calm after a long time. Shin Jonghak got ready to sleep, and Jin Seyeon took beef jerkys and other food out of the inventory and gave them out to the others.
They were quietly recovering their stamina when, suddenly, Jin Seyeon spoke up as she chewed a jerky.
"Perhaps Black Lotus was already aware of this situation."
That was an interesting hypothesis, and now their attention was focused on Jin Seyeon.
Aileen looked a little bit afraid.
"No, there's a good chance. I've been thinking about it all this time, to be honest.”
Said Jin Seyeon with a grim expression.
"That Black Lotus somehow found out about the 9th floor’s calamities and was deliberately blocking the World’s End Bridge.”
Everybody was silent.
But soon Aileen disagreed.
"That doesn't make any sense. How could he have known? We were the first ones to enter without a doubt."
"I don't know how, but hasn't Black Lotus been acting strangely all this time?"
Jin Seyeon began reciting her doubts one by one.
"Black Lotus didn't have to fire warning shots. He should be aware of the risk he creates for himself in doing so. But he fired them anyways and overlooked those who retreated. What that means is…"
Jin Seyeon stopped shortly.
"…that his goal wasn't to kill. And opening the door was very easy. It only took us a few monsters and some traps to get here. So that proved that he wasn't blocking the bridge out of selfishness, like 'anything I can’t do, you can’t do.’”
What Jin Seyeon said made sense, and a heavy silence descended upon them. A few moments later, Yi Yongha, who had remained silent until now, spoke up.
“It’s true that words wouldn't have been enough to stop anyone. Both Heroes and Djinns are eager to climb the Tower. It does feel like Black Lotus calmed the madness down a bit."
Honestly speaking, Black Lotus had helped people to appreciate and enjoy the Tower itself. That was what Yi Yongha was referring to.
Aileen disheveled her hair. "…So what? We go outside now, say 'sorry, we messed up' and tell everyone that Black Lotus is actually a really cool guy?"
"If what Divine Archer Jin Seyeon said is correct, then he does seem kind of cool…"
Suddenly, the four heard loud footsteps and tensed up.
Another monster had emerged from afar.
It had the body of a man and the head of a bull.
It was the Minotaur, the mythical monster that the members of the party were all familiar with.
Jin Seyeon grabbed her bow from the ground and remarked.
"…For now, let's buy as much time as we can and get everything we can. They’re hard to kill, but they do drop great items.”
Fighting against strong opponents always improved one's skills.
The four of them reluctantly moved their worn out bodies.
"Sheesh. Okay, okay."
Aileen mumbled and glared at the Minotaur.
They actually had achieved their [goal] a long time ago. The goal of the 9th floor was for each player to defeat at least 2 monsters. So they could go up to the 10th floor anytime now.
The only thing holding them back was their sense of duty as Heroes.
Aileen created a sharp spear out of magic power.
The sparks of magic power shook the atmosphere and gathered at the tip of the magic spear.
"…will pierce your heart!"
A sharp yell resounded from her small mouth. At the same time, the magic spear wailed.
It moved quickly, at a speed similar to that of light, undetectable by the naked eye.
Aileen's magic spear disappeared from the world and appeared again moments later. It had pierced the Minotaur's heart as if it had been there from the beginning.
That was Aileen's last Spirit Speech.
The spear which had pierced the monster’s heart became a high-temperature, high-voltage electric current and burned the inside of the Minotaur's body.
The Minotaur, standing tall, looked like a 'living' thunderbolt.
Right, the Minotaur wasn't dead yet.
Returner changed to Regressor!